Before there was Hill House, there was the Halloran mansion of Jackson’s stunningly creepy fourth novel, The Sundial. When the Halloran clan gathers at the family home for a funeral, no one is surprised when the somewhat peculiar Aunt Fanny wanders off into the secret garden. But then she returns to report an astonishing vision of an apocalypse from which only the Hallorans and their hangers-on will be spared, and the family finds itself engulfed in growing madness, fear, and violence as they prepare for a terrible new world.
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Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco in 1916. She is best known for stories of horror and the occult. You have likely read her short story "The Lottery" in school before. (This annotation contains an image)
Watch this video and determine the setting and the effect of the setting on this story as it progresses. (This annotation contains a video)
Based on the servant's conversation, what is the general opinion of the family?
How do the house servants treat Aunt Fanny?
What can we infer of Mr. Halloran based on his interaction with Mrs. Halloran?
Already the reader has been introduced to some colorful characters in this story. Watch the video below to learn more about different ways to analyze a character. As you read, make notes about the different types of characterization you notice and how that helps develop the characters' personalities. (This annotation contains a video)
What was Mrs. Halloran's schedule "disturbed" by on this day?
A sundial is one of the most efficient ways to tell time. It is a simple item that does not need cogwheels, pendulums, springs, or winding. It's job is to cast the shadow of the sun on a numbered scale in what is known as a sundial or a sun clock. Consider why the book is titled this and how it will appear as a symbol within this book. (This annotation contains an image)
Consider the inscription and what you know about the people and this estate. Explain what meaning the sundial inscription has for you at this point in the novel.
This story has an ominicent narrator, telling us the thoughts and feelings of many characters at different times. Pay attention to the narration and determine after the first chapter if this narration is reliable or unreliable.
Aunt Fanny's tone in the most recent exchange with Mrs. Halloran could be described as
Mrs. Halloran fires everyone and tells Fanny to live in the
Watch the video below about symbols. Consider what this doll house is symbolic of. (This annotation contains a video)
Consider Aunt Fanny's actions and reactions in the highlighted portion of the text. What mood do her actions and reactions create for the reader?
Here the setting, specifically the weather, is creating a mood for the reader. Notice how the presence of the mist creates tension and an uneasy feeling in the reader. (This annotation contains an image)
Which literary device is being used as the author places Aunt Fanny's loving fantasy next to the description of the marble jeering face of a fiend?
While Aunt Fanny is getting the message about the end of the world from her father, the mist continues. As soon as the message is received, sun comes out, possibly indicating that the trouble has been lifted if the message is followed. It is also interesting to consider what her father meant when he says, "within the father there is no fear." Is he referring to himself as the house, or is this a parallel to the biblical father?
The only part of Aunt Fanny's story that can be corroborated is that she was running down the lawn towards the sundial. Who corroborates this?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
Reread the last three paragraphs. How is the structure and point of view different here than in the rest of the book? The story is being told in third person omniscient, but in these three paragraphs, it is as if the narrator is speaking to the reader to tell the reader what cannot be determined based on the actions of these characters.
How does Aunt Fanny change after the incident with her father in the garden?
Which literary device is present in the highlighted passage?
Consider what you know of this group of people so far. They have just been informed that they will be the only ones left to repopulate and inhabit the world after this big fire. How is this an example of situational irony? Watch the video below for clarification. (This annotation contains a video)
Use the define feature to look up "claptrap." Which of the following is an antonym of the word claptrap?
The quote from Robinson Crusoe shows the reader a parallel to what is happening in the world of the Halloran household. Robinson Crusoe is a classic adventure story which recounts the struggles of an Englishman stranded on an uninhabited island for 24 years. During this time the story revisits his efforts to build a shelter and develop a food supply, his dramatic encounter with the native Friday, and their eventual escape and return to civilization. Consider how this relates to The Sundial. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the tone in the conversation between Mrs. Willow and the others?
Watch the video below regarding theme and motifs. Consider the reoccurring ideas and objects in this text. How can they help you develop the theme? (This annotation contains a video)
Consider Orianna's interactions with Essex thus far in the book. Notice her actions in the highlighted portion. What can be inferred about her?
What is it that Miss Ogilvie tells Mrs. WIllow?
Characters' actions and dialogue reveal many details about their personalities and motives. Consider the conversations and actions of Mrs. Willow and her daughters. What do you think her motive for coming to the house is?
What is Mrs. Willow is asking for?
Watch the clip on archetypes below and consider what archetypes you see emerging in this book. (This annotation contains a video)
Using examples from the text, describe Aunt Fanny's character. Include her station in life, her attitude, and her general personality.
Reread the highlighted text. Notice the simile Aunt Fanny uses. Aunt Fanny uses this simile to explain their situation. What is the effect of this comparison?
Think about what the characters have said about reality. How does this compare to what you think reality is?
As the group is discussing the visit from Aunt Fanny's father, Essex clarifies that Aunt Fanny is neither a medium (a person who can speak to the dead) or a charlatan (a fraud), confirming his belief in what she said. At the same time as this conversation, a new person arrives. The group, puzzled at first, thinks she is a ghost. Predict: Do you think Mrs. Halloran will allow her to stay?
The household wants more answers about what is about to happen. What do the household members do to get these answers?
They are having Gloria look into the oiled mirror in an attempt to scry, or see visions from the other side. See the link below to read more about this idea. Consider whether or not you believe it will work. (This annotation contains a link)
Chapter 1-4 Quiz
Think about what Essex has just exposed here and the way Arabella reacted. What has the reader just learned about these characters?
What was the village where old Mr. Halloran built his extravagant house known for?
Which statement best describes the old Mr. Halloran's position on the village and the people in it?
Even when she believes the end of the world is about to come, Aunt Fanny continues to be the proper lady that her father raised by coming to the village to make a purchase from each store and to build her supplies in the house for their survival. What items, other than food, do you think this family will want in their home?
While in the lending library, Aunt Fanny and Miss Ogilvie ask for which types of books?
It seems that Aunt Fanny has thought of many necessities for their new life: survival books, building books, food, and candles. Knowing this family and the members of the household, do you feel they will be successful as the workers and builders of the new world?
What new information does Miss Ogilvie gather while discussing purchasing cake and blueberry muffins for the end of the world which she immediately wants to share with Aunt Fanny?
Which definition of "insidious" is being used in the highlighted sentence?
This section may have seemed confusing. Let's summarize what just happened: Aunt Fanny and Miss Ogilvie went to town to purchase some supplies for the end of the world and to make a good show for all of the village people. Suddenly, Aunt Fanny sees a man at the station and decides that she should not only speak with him, but invite him to her house to be a part of the group that lasts. He is completely bewildered, but goes along with it anyway. Aunt Fanny mentions not even asking for references because she feels he would not tell the truth anyway, which implies that he may have a shady background. Essex is not completely pleased with the new Captain in the house, but probably sees his worth since they will need someone to do the heavy duty work in their next life to rebuild. Consider why Aunt Fanny was so accepting of this complete stranger.
How do the True Believers differ from the Halloran household in their beliefs?
According to wikipedia, ambrosia is sometimes the food or drink of the ancient Greek gods. It is often depicted as bringing immortality to whoever consumes it. According to myths, it was brought to the gods in Olympus by doves. Consider why the allusion to the drink of ambrosia has been brought up in this conversation. (This annotation contains a link)
What is the importance of the name "Anna"?
Which literary device can be found in the highlighted passage?
Notice how the personification affects the mood of the text. With the words, "grasping fingers" and "sharply caressing touch," the reader begins to feel the tension and the desperate feelings of Aunt Fanny. The use of figurative language helps the author convey this mood as well as create images in the reader's mind of the maze and Fanny's frantic escape.
The first omen, the snake in the library, occurred after Aunt Fanny's first interaction with her father. What omen followed this visit from the ghost?
Explain what you think this dream says about Mrs. Halloran's character and her thoughts. Use examples from the text to support your answer.
The Sundial's inscription is "What is this world?" and upon the sundial is a doll, in the likeness of Mrs. Halloran, with pins stuck in it. This immediately follows the dream Mrs. Halloran has had about being alone and revealing that she really does not like any of the people in the house. Is it ironic that the doll was placed here?
When Aunt Fanny's purchases began arriving, where did they store all of the new things?
There seems to be a split developing. Fanny is collecting all of these items: umbrellas, bikes, peaches, etc for the new world, and she, along with Gloria and possibly Essex, believe the house will be seen as a shrine of the Gods. They will be the Gods. Mrs. Halloran however does not think she will ever leave her house and continues to impart her blessings on things and her rule on the new world. Predict how this will develop further within the household.
How does Gloria feel about being the person to look in the oiled mirror?
Miss. WIllow and the others are beginning to get anxious about when the end of the world is going to arrive. They are having Gloria look into the mirror at different points in time to see what is happening in one month and two months. Nothing seems to have changed. Do you think that Aunt Fanny is just crazy and all of this is made up or is the end of the world really going to happen?
According to Gloria's scrying, during which month might the end of the world occur?
Many things are becoming clear through this conversation. Mrs. Halloran is doubting the vision of Aunt Fanny, and Julia and the captain are as well. The captain's true colors are beginning to show as he asks if there is money kept in the house. Clearly Essex and Mrs. Halloran want the captain to stay so that he can father future generations and help with the manly work needed around the house in the new world. Consider how the household would react if Julia and the captain left tonight.
Chapters 5-8 Quiz
Notice the reference to Robinson Crusoe again. How do the passages from Robinson Crusoe included parallel what is happening in the novel?
A utopian community is one which possesses highly desirable or near perfect qualities. What will the Halloran's utopian society look like?
Explain what Mrs. Halloran just did to Harry through this conversation and the gift of the money.
We learn about Mrs. Halloran's character through these actions. She clearly left the money on the table knowing that Julia would steal it. Mrs. Halloran also knew she would change the Captain's mind. She also did not let Julia know about the change in plans until after she was outside of the gates. This lets us know that she is a calculating, determined woman. What does the entire episode tell the reader about Harry?
How does the setting here affect the mood?
We learn about human nature by watching the people around us and experiencing life. What life lesson about human nature is Julia learning on this road trip?
What does the highlighted section tell us about Julia at this point in time?
Summarize what happened to Julia and how she ended up back at the Halloran house.
Could this snake another bad omen? Snakes have been considered a bad omen and a symbol of evil for a long time. Snakes have had this reputation since the story of Adam and Eve. According to the bible, if it wasn’t for the snake encouraging Eve to bite into that forbidden apple, mankind would never have been cast from the Garden of Eden. Which character is best represented by the snake?
What literary device is present in the highlighted text?
Conflict is necessary in a story because it is what the plot is built upon. After watching this video, identify different types of conflict you have read about within this novel. (This annotation contains a video)
After reading about Gloria's thoughts, we can infer that
Fancy, the youngest, seems to be making the most sense and is implying a theme for the book. Think about what she is saying and how it develops or leads to a theme for the story. Watch the video for more information on theme. (This annotation contains a video)
What does Mrs. Halloran want to do for the village?
A "golden anniversary" is celebrating 50 years of marriage. Since Mrs. Halloran wants the party to be an elaborate one, she is going to pretend that it is her 50th anniversary to Richard, even though it is not. People will marvel at how young she looks, and she will be the center of attention.
Mrs. Halloran has just revealed to the people of the household how she views herself now and in the new world. In what way does she see herself?
What is the reader to do with this information? Does the reader believe it is creepy that Fanny has replicated the home of her mother in this attic space, or are they to think that it is sentimental, or better yet, planned out for the second world? Consider these things as you contemplate why these things were so important and how they have been preserved.
What does the work that Aunt Fanny put into the attic apartment tell the reader about her character?
Consider the idea of the doll house. Fancy has her doll house which is a replica of the big house. In it are her only friends: dolls. The attic room is like Aunt Fanny's doll house. She moves the items around and pretends she is with her family. The big house itself is the dollhouse for Mrs. Halloran. She selects what each person in the house will or will not do and treats the people as if they were dolls in her care. What is this saying about human nature, society and these characters?
Based on Gloria's conversation with Fancy, which of the following statements about Gloria is true?
Below is an image of Notre Dame's grotto. Consider what Mr. Halloran's looked like based on the description here. (This annotation contains an image)
Chapters 9-12 Quiz
Watch the video below on foreshadowing, then reread the highlighted statement and consider what is being foreshadowed by this comment. (This annotation contains a video)
Essex, the Captain, Gloria, Maryjane, and Fancy all have the same idea after Gloria's vision this morning. What mood does the vision and their reaction create for the reader?
Which literary device is present twice in the highlighted portion of the text?
The crown is clearly a symbol of power, superiority, and independence; however, in this story it does not represent those things to all of the characters. How do you think this symbol help support a theme for the text?
What is the general feeling about the crown based on the characters' comments?
It seems that although the villagers do not interact with the Hallorans on a consistant basis, they are viewing this party for what it is meant to be. A showy event to show off Mrs. Halloran's money and extravagance. They are not at all fooled into thinking this was because she cared for them in any way. It is interesting to note that Mrs. Haloran did not actually have any friends of her own to invite to the party.
Which literary device is present in the highlighted portion of the text?
The allusions to Alice in Wonderland parallel this story as the Sundial says, "What is this world?" Mrs. Halloran has brought all the village people to her house, the people within the household each seem to have their own agenda, and this "world" that has been created by Mrs. Halloran is truly mad indeed. Can you think of any other ways the allusion magnifies what is happening at this garden party? (This annotation contains a link)
Why is Richard so agitated this evening?
Essex has made up stories about Mrs. Halloran, the Captain, Miss Ogilve, and Aunt Fanny. Why do you think Essex is spreading these lies about everyone in the Halloran household?
Where did Maryjane meet her late husband, Lionel Halloran?
This is an example of verbal irony. These men just spent time talking about all of the heartless, careless actions of the old Mr. Halloran, but out of fear, or respect for Aunt Fanny, they say he was a nice man. They really mean the exact opposite.
Reread the highlighted text which recounts part of the drunken party. What is the mood in this section? Use examples from the text to support your answer.
Reflecting back on the comments Essex made about the members of the household: could he have anticipated that Miss Ogilvie or the others may try to share the news of the end of the world? Maybe he was protecting the provisions that they have already stored up. Do you have any other thoughts as you read about the party?
What is the effect of the metaphor used in the highlighted passage?
Notice that as we get closer to the end of the world the weather begins acting up. The unusual hotness and the wild, unnerving wind creates tension and suspense in the reader. What else is helping to create suspense?
Julia's insistence that they not listen to the radio tells the reader what about her state of mind?
Consider the direction that Mrs. Halloran gave for them to be properly dressed to walk into the new world. If they will be the only ones there, why does it matter?
What happens to Mrs. Halloran?
Miss Willow keeps saying that Mrs. Halloran was pushed down the stairs, just like her son. Consider everyone's reactions. Who would most likely have pushed her down the stairs?
Chapters 13-16 Quiz
The Sundial ends with many unanswered questions and unsettling questions: it is uncertain if the world will end after the storm has passed, but if it does, are these unpleasant people to inherit the earth? The story offers no certainties. This is known as ambiguity in literature. To complement some of the themes in this book, watch the TED talk below titled,"Can we prevent the end of the world?" and consider how this connects to today and this novel. (This annotation contains a video)